Iridium Communications has announced that SpaceX might finally return to its first flight on Dec. 16 following the unfortunate Falcon 9 rocket explosion last September.
The Virginia-based satellite constellation company, which was affected by the delay in SpaceX's launches, plans to have 10 of its satellites aboard the Falcon 9 rocket for liftoff, a spokesperson said.
SpaceX postponed its flight schedules after a Falcon 9 rocket burst into flames on Sept. 1 while it was being fueled for a prelaunch test at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
"We are looking forward to return to flight," said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX.
December 16 Falcon 9 Rocket Launch
Iridium urgently needs SpaceX on the launching pad because the company needs to set up the Iridium NEXT constellation before the current satellite constellation gets shut down.
Diane Hockenberry, a spokesperson for Iridium, said the company is confident that SpaceX now understands its fueling process and can do it successfully for the Dec. 16 launch. She also said Iridium's satellites will not be placed aboard the Falcon 9 rocket while the prelaunch engine test is ongoing.
The 10 satellites from Iridium are the first out of 81 spacecraft that will be sent to space as part of the company's efforts to replace satellites in its existing satellite constellation.
Iridium is planning to send at least 70 satellites to space in partnership with SpaceX in order to replace the world's biggest commercial satellite network located in low-Earth orbit. The company believes it is the largest "tech upgrade in history."
September 1 Falcon 9 Rocket Incident
SpaceX, a private spaceflight company led by Elon Musk, traced the Sept. 1 explosion to a fueling system problem, which caused pressurized liquid helium from inside the upper stage of the rocket to burst. The explosion destroyed a $200 million satellite owned by Israel's satellite operator Space Communication Ltd.
The company uses extremely cold liquid propellants loaded before blastoff to increase its rocket's power so it can return to Earth and be reused. It's an unconventional method that requires the spacecraft to be fueled a few minutes before launch so that the liquid helium does not warm up.
SpaceX has signed a contract with NASA to carry astronauts to the International Space Station in 2018, so its unorthodox fueling process has prompted concerns from officials. In fact, in early November, a NASA advisory panel questioned the safety of the company's fueling process.
In the meantime, SpaceX will continue working with NASA and Iridium in the future.